Archive for September, 2018

1.1 How it started


1.1 how it started

Ten million years ago the climate became cooler and drier. Miocene jungles, that until then reached halfway into Eurasia, gradually retreated in the direction of the equator, being replaced by open savannahs. Five million years ago the jungle where our earliest ancestors lived in Northeast Africa, especially east of the Great Rift[1], started to undergo this change. It is here that our story begins.

Humanosophic version of the human family tree

Our earliest ancestors were hominid apes. Frans de Waal (Bonobo 1997) says that, if we want an image of our earliest ancestors, we should look at the bonobos. They are the only kind of chimpanzee whose environment never changed. A species will only change when its environment changes. The environment of our earliest ancestors[2] changed totally, so our early ancestors changed totally. The environment of the chimpanzee ancestors changed much later and partially, so the chimpanzees changed partially.
Here, we will name our earliest ancestors ‘our[3] ancestor-bonobos(ANBOs).

It took millions of years for their jungle to turn into a savannah. Our ANBOs never were aware of this change; for them the world was in every phase like it always was. So the adaptations to the new conditions passed unnoticed. But for our story these adaptations are crucial. Not the physical adjustments so much, but especially the social and mental, in short the cultural evolution.

The savannah is a diverse environment consisting of open woodlands, mixed with impenetrable shrubs and grasslands accommodating herds of many kinds of grass eaters.

Our ANBOs lived in the woodlands, where like many present-day apes, they spent the nights in nests high in the trees. But these woodlands along the shores of rivers and lakes didn’t contain the fruit trees their ancestors used for sustenance. For food, our ANBOs had to roam the open grasslands: a dangerous area because of the big cats that preyed on the grass eaters. The saber-toothed tigers were specialists in preying on pachyderms: rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and (ancestors of the) elephants.

I want to emphasize that the Miocene (22 – 5 million years ago) savannah was characterized by megafauna (large animals) and was much more dangerous than the current Serengeti. Lions, saber-toothed tigers and giant hyenas were formidable predators. Though the little ANBOs were much stronger than we are now, they needed special armament to roam the grasslands safely. This was: throwing stones to keep the predators on distance.

This can be illustrated by the behavior of apes today. Jane Goodall tells the story of the adult chimp male ‘Mister Worzle’. The bananas she left for the chimpanzees in order to study their behavior in the neighborhood, also allured baboons (large and brave monkeys) that frightened some female chimpanzees. But Mister Worzle did not give a centimeter of ground and threw anything he could grasp: grass, branches, once a bunch of bananas (baboons happy!). Soon he discovered that stones worked better and that bigger stones worked even better. And he began to gather them on a heap.

Our ANBOs needed to become ‘professional’ stone throwers. They could not take a step on the open grasslands in safety without their armament of stones. Who did throw men or women?
Women carried babies and had to gather food stuff. Men with their stones made sure that the group went safely around over the open grasslands. Division of tasks from the beginning .
One stone was not enough to ensure their safety; the men needed a handful of stones. But how you can as an ape carry a handful of stones?

skull sabre cat


Sabre cats – we already mentioned them – were specialists in predating fat-skins like elephant-like and rhinoceroses. They stalked such a meat fort and after a fierce sprint they turned open its soft underbelly (these cats could open their mouth unusually wide, the sabres laying in the extension of the skull (see photo).

Sabre toothed tigers ate only the entrails of their kill. The rest of the carcass was left to other animals. As soon as vultures started circling around from their high vantage point, lions and hyenas knew that a meal was coming. Lions were first, then the hyenas and the vultures ate the left-overs. Because of the steady supply of carcasses by the sabers the basically inedible, hairy or leathery skins and the skeletons stayed there. The ANBOs beat the bones for the marrow with their stones and used the hides to carry things[4]; with their long experience in braiding and wattling their sleep nests, tying these hides was easy.

But how will apes carry bags filled with stones? How do bonobos and chimps carry heavy things? They use their hands, so they must walk upright on their feet. Our ANBOs needed to become bipeds: without carrying some stones for armament, it would not be safe for them to venture into the open grasslands.[5] In tens of hundreds of thousands of years our ANBOs, having no other choice, turned into bipeds with longer and stronger legs, special pelvic and buttock muscles, special midriff and blood circulation[6]. At least they made a good start developing these properties, good enough for foraging on the savannah. They kept using their hands and feet for climbing: it was not safe to sleep on the floor, so they still needed them to make sleeping platforms high in the trees of the woodland.

Females had to carry their babies and gather food for themselves and the rest of the troupe, so they couldn’t carry and throw stones. Males couldn’t gather food: they had to offer protection, because hungry predators were always watchful for moments of unalertness. So our ANBOs cultivated a division of labor from the very beginning. Women and children gathered food: grass seeds, tubers and roots which they dug up with digging sticks[7], larvae and insects, eggs and small animals. The adult men did nothing but provide safety. The groups who practiced those behaviors most effectively, flourished (by keeping more young alive) and soon outnumbered the groups that were clumsier at these things. Through hundreds of generations, the population exhibiting these behaviors, were the fittest and survived.

The same mechanism applies to group harmony. Because of the big cats and the giant hyenas, the open savanna was a dangerous environment for apes and forced them to maintain strict group harmony. That was not a big problem at all: bonobos live in female-dominated groups characterized by group harmony, and solve tensions with sex.

Dentitions. Left: chimpanzee. Middle: australopith. Right: human

Clearly, our ANBOs probably ‘professionalized’ and optimized this behavior. The dentition of male bonobos still shows large canine teeth that can be used as weapons in sexual competition – although, chimpanzee canines are larger. Fossil australopith dentition shows reduced size of the canines: partially as a result of the need for grinding hard food like grass seeds, but also as a result of reduced male competition.[8] That our ANBOs solved all tensions with sex, is clear because while the size of the canines was reduced, the penises were enlarged! Of course the ‘attractive’ red vaginas of bonobo females and the heavy scrotums of bonobo males were not practical for bipeds, so those were reduced in size too. Every time the women were in estrus, this intensified male competition and group tensions. Therefore, the women’s periods became less noticeable as well. All these reductions were compensated with nice breasts and buttocks for the women, and continuous sexual willingness: mechanisms for reducing tensions and fostering group harmony.

Didn’t the men hunt? No way. Australopith bipedal locomotion was not fast enough to compete in hunting with the savannah predators. Nevertheless, besides birds eggs, insects and larvae there was yet another protein source for them on the savannah: hides.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor h. erectus slacht olifant Savannah today: more open space than in the ‘cradle of humanity’ which we suspect was in the Afar region of Ethiopia of 5 mya: woodland with less open spaces; but we can imagine an AP-group walking one after another between the grazers on their foraging trip. They were no danger to the grazers; as long as those kept quietly grazing, this meant for the ANBOs that it was safe for them as well, and they walked calmly, with their free hand occasionally stripping off grass seeds to chew them; in the meantime the women were searching for the edible tubers, recognizable by their leaves; and then the group had to stop for some time while the men watched with their stones.

As already mentioned, the hides all over the place, left behind as less edible by the other meat-eaters of the savannah, provided a new niche for the handy ANBOs. There was protein-rich tissue left on the hides to pick and scrape them with the sharp edges of bones, shells and stones. And when a hide was scraped totally clean, it made a perfect bag to carry things such as stones, or it made a blanket to use in cold nights, a screen against sun, wind, or rain. These multipurpose hides were the ANBOs’ first and only property. The paleos lack attention for the importance of the hides in the technical development of our ancestors, an omission that is understandable because hides are not preserved at archaeological sites (just like digging sticks and similar soft-material tools).
But philosophers are allowed to speculate more freely for the benefit of our Great Story, to immediately correct it as soon as a scientific evidence disproves a speculation[9].

Actually, this use of hides marked the beginning of ‘the stone age’: the beginning of the use of stone flakes for processing hides.

Processing hides, soon slaughter of found carcasses, later slaughter of the prey carcasses of the men: until recent HG-times it is females work. Turning stones into useful tools as scrapers and knives is females work. Our primatologists tell us that male chimpanzees use stones only for impressing behavior but female chimps use them for cracking hard nuts. Stone technology was a female invention, even before the birth of mankind.

All these environmental changes and physical adaptations developed unnoticed by our ANBOs. Just like all apes 7 million years ago, they made their daily foraging routes in a vast foraging territory. In the course of two million years, ever more open grasslands became part of their territory and daily route. All necessary adaptations developed during this time. By 5 million years ago, the hominins (australopiths, bipedal apes), including our future ANBOs, were experienced woodland/savannah foragers.

What remained rather unchanged was their way of life. They would leave their woodland nests early in the morning, wander along a route they knew perfectly, gathering food along the way, and finally arrive at the next woodland where they would share the gathered food and then make their nests high in the trees. The only part of the routine that changed, was that instead of eating their food while ranging on the grass lands, they carried most of the gathered food (tubers, grass seeds, larvae, eggs, and so on) to their overnight place in some wood, to be distributed equally among all group members. This was necessary because the men had less opportunity to get food enough during the foraging: their vigilance could not be allowed to weaken for a moment because of the permanent threat of the hungry predators.
After dinner and before the evening twilight, everybody had to climb in a tree and braid her or his nest.

Like their ancestors they lived in groups. Not too large: too much mouths to feed; not too small because there were enough men needed for the protection against predators. This asks for a number of around 25 individuals. But the composition of a group constantly changed and there was also constant exchange with nearby groups.
This meant that harmony within the groups as well as between the groups was conducive to the flourishing of the population. Therefore natural selection selected harmonious behavior as ‘good’. Our ancestors became ‘good natured’[10].

During 99.5 % of the long time span our species existed, our ancestors were first gatherer-scavengers and later gatherer-hunters.

  1. Paleo Tim White points to the Middle Awash (Ethiopia) as ‘the window on human past’
  2. Assuming that they lived in the forest of today’s Ethiopia, now desert but in the words of paleo Tim White at the time ‘a lush environment’ with lakes and rivers.
  3. ‘our’ because bonobos and chimps have their ANBOs too
  4. See also Nancy Tanner and Adrienne Zihlman in Mothers and Daughters of Invention (1995).
  5. Other speculations about the origins of bipedalism, such as: better sight or less body parts exposed to the sun, lack the answer on the obvious question: why then didn’t the other savanna-dwellers like zebras or baboons become bipeds?
  6. For the physical adaptations: Elaine Morgan Scars of evolution . London, 1990
  7. Today’s woodland chimpanzee females are observed digging up tubers with self-made digging sticks!
  8. Mind also the reduction of the chewing apparatus from ape to human.
  9. After all, we did it thousands of years with Great Stories that were entirely dreamed up.
  10. For Frans de Waal even chimpanzees are Good Natured (1979)

1.2 Names for the things

1.2 names for the things

So far, the ANBOs didn’t stand out from other australopith species, such as afarensis or africanus, whose remnants our paleos have found in Africa. Now we get to the incidental invention that led, in the end, to our human condition.

For us, what we are going to tell now has been a familiar story for decennia. But yesterday (June 11, 2018) we read the article by Richard Nordquist[1] on ThoughtCo and again we knew that for philosophers in general and for linguists in particular it is still new. He quotes Bernard Campbell[2]”We simply do not know, and never will, how or when language began”, and continues with the enumeration of the five most common theories which nevertheless have been put forward to then pull all five down. He ends by citing Christine Kenneally[3] “To find out how language began is the hardest problem in science today.”

Certainly, discipline scientists have to limit themselves to hard facts and the first words have left no trace. But reconstructing our Genesis story is philosophical work and for humanosophers, making use of as much discipline as possible is sufficient. Moreover, the astronomers leave with their Big Bang from an unproven just-so-story, in order to explain their universe phenomena satisfactorily. So we consider ourselves entitled with ours.

Again a women’s invention. No invention that resulted from a change in their environment, no new form of adaptation. Today there are chimpanzee women in Ugalla (Tanzania) who leave the protection of the woodland during the wet seasons to excavate tubers on the open grasslands with homemade digging sticks. For us the proof that our ANBOs did fine without any linguisticness. We would today still be ape-men (so normal animals) somewhere in Africa, if not 5 mya had happened something accidental in one of the ANBO groups.

But where something is possible, it happens too, sooner or later. So it was bound to happen somewhere and sometime in the australopitic world, that in one group, presumably in a forwarded group, and probably again a woman, somebody started with the first name for a thing. Because we are a symbolic species now and no other species has names for the things – if there was another species with names for the things, then we would have noticed this for a long time. Because disposing of names for the things does something with an animal. It does 5 things and later on we will list these 5 things.

Of course there were forwarded and backwarded living-groups, and different environments. In forwarded groups, in more savanna-like environment such as the Rift valley around 5 millions of years ago (mya), one may imagine that in the early mornings a patrol of three adult men scouted the route that the alpha woman had in mind for the next foraging trip. So that not the whole group of old people and children had to go back and decide to another route if some danger had been identified. In this case the patrol returned and imitated [sabre tiger!] or [hyenas!]. [4]

Our speculation is – and if you can imagine a better one, you are welcome – that on one morning a young girl of such a vicious group was very happy because she knew that the group would come across bushes with tasty berries on the foraging route of that day. Her two girlfriends looked at her in astonishment: why was this euphoria? The girl racked her brain: how could she communicate what she had in her mind?

I made a painting of this pivotal moment: the birth of humanity

Inspired by the gestured imitations of the morning scouts she imitated [berry], [picking], [putting in mouth’], facial expression of delicious tasting and finally pointing with her digging stick in the direction of the group, already being on its foraging way.
No understanding. Another time. And another time. One girl became impatient: it was dangerous to detach the protection of the group. The older girlfriend racked her brain: and after again the berry-pick-imitation the penny dropped at her. Yess!!

The girls ran after the group, laughing, and they had fun with the berry-pick pantomime the whole day. Some women understood the imitation and also got fun.
The next morning the older girl friend invented something the group might encounter that day: digging tubers! And she imitated for her friends [digging] [corms]. And again fun with the new imitation, and some more women joined the fun of the imitation.

Except that the game was fun, it was also useful: so women could communicate what they had in mind. It was an extension but also an enrichment of their normal group animal communication. It improved their cooperation, benefited survival, and the group flourished more than australopithic groups without this handy practice. When young women moved to a neighboring group to find a mate, they took this habit along, spreading this gesturing practice over the whole clan and tribe. Our ancestors! Our ANBOs.

This was an incidental, casual beginning of a new group culture. It must have been contingent, because it was not necessary for surviving.[5] The childish game might have been forgotten, in which case we would be still a kind of ape men in the African savanna today. But this new ‘culture’ turned out to be helpful and useful. It improved group cooperation.

Keep in mind that in our opinion this has been the second women’s invention that has made us from apes into people. Why a female again (after stone technology)? Because most (if not all) new things in apes begin with young females[6].
You may notice that it was the men of the patrols after all? No, because their imitations were no more than the delayed warning cries of the vervet monkeys: stimulus-response reactions.

An incidental new habit … a huge step towards becoming human! This was a totally new phenomenon in the history of life on earth. All group animals have their own means of communication. But in no other species individuals can communicate about something beyond their awareness, about something in another place, in another season, in the past or in the future. These gesture-imitations of things by our ANBOs were (the beginnings of) names for the things, enabling them to communicate on a new level.

A new level?

Disposing of names for the things does something with an animal. It does 5 things, and you can better memorize these 5 things if you want to know what had made our species so special in the animal world.

  1. professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Armstrong State University
  2. Author of Humankind Emerging 2005)
  3. Author of The First Word: The Search for the Ogigins of Language (Viking, 2007)
  4. a recent research (PLOS Biology Feb, 2018) from teams of St Andrews, York and Kyoto shows at least four communication gestures which bonobos and chimpanzees have in common; conclusion is that those gestures were already in use among the common ancestors of our ‘family’. In the more complicated environment of our ANBOs sophistication of these gestural communication could not stay away
  5. The new and contingent ‘culture’ was not necessary for surviving: see PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) December 4, 2007: “Savanna chimpanzees use tools to harvest the underground storage organs of plants”. Female chimps leave their woodland habitat for digging tubers with digging sticks; during the wet season and despite the fact that then there is no shortage of fruit in their habitat but because then the soil is weaker.
  6. For instance, the young macaque Imo on the Japanese island Koshima who started with washing her sweet potatoes in 1953, a ‘culture’ that is still in use long after her dead


1.3 The 5 things that made our species so special in the animal world

1.3 The 5 things that made our species so special in the animal world

  1. A name for a thing is not the thing. There is an unbridgeable mental gap between Afbeeldingsresultaat voor magritte ceci n'est pas une pipe the thing and the name (symbol, word, image) of it. The French painter dedicated a painting to this phenomenon in 1922: Ceci nést pas une pipe. Going to live with an enrichment of our normal group animal communication with names for things has brought our species into a world of words, a spiritual (or ‘virtual) world of named things. This phenomenon has already occupied our philosophers from Plato.
    It creates a feeling of distance between the namer and the named thing: the ‘mental gap’, the human condition.
    In other words: it creates a distance between the subject (the namer) and the object (the named thing): we are distant from our environment, while normal animals willlessly remain part of it.
  2. With a name you grab the thing. You can see the name (word, symbol, image) as a handle on the thing with which you can ‘grasp’ it, get a ‘grip’ on it. You can grab the idea (the mental thing) with it and reach it out to the other person who can grasp it and gets the same idea in her mind immediately.
    With names for the things our ANBOs entered the path of ‘grasping’ (understanding) the things of their world and we are still on this path of ever better understanding the things.
  3. With the name for the saber-toothed tiger the ANBOs got mental ‘grip’ on the monster and it reduced their instinctive fear a little.
    Conversely, this also means an impairment of the named. In wild tribes one may never name an adult: one needs to describe someone (such as: father of …). Jews (being from a wild tribe culture) are not allowed to call their god by name. Muslims (being from a wild tribe culture) are not allowed to depict their founder Mohammed.
    With names for the things ANBOs got emotional power over things. This led them to use the fire instead of keeping to flee for it like all other animals. [1]
  4. With names for the things ANBOs could transfer knowledge acquired in one generation to the next. Knowledge could accumulate.
  5. Two know more than one, and with the whole group ANBOs could brainstorm, could solve big problems, could devise plans. Together with their fire the ANBOs changed from fearful troops of ape-men to the ‘hooligans of the savanna’.

As a result of these five effects of disposing of names for the things our ancestor-australopiths developed more flexibility and inventiveness than other animals and even than other australopiths. Australopith groups without this facility of conferring with each another – boisei, robustus, aethiopicus, even afarensis– died out, presumably with some help of the ancestor-australopiths, the ‘hooligans’ of the Pliocene savannah.

Darwinian biologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins has introduced the concept meme as the cultural twin of the biological gen. Just like genes ensure transfer of physical properties, memes (ideas, melodies, fashions, techniques, practices) ensure transfer of cultural elements. It is important to note here that the names for things we are talking about, constitute a concept on a more fundamental level than Dawkin’s memes. In a way, this name thing – the linguistic capacity – is a condition that is necessary for, and at the root of, the development of cultural memes.

  1. with the exception of pets and … birds


Enter your email
Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.